On her birthday, its worth noting that she has shunned the life of a Bollywood celebrity consciously. Fairly committed to her role as a Member of Parliament, she is also often missing from media coverage around the Bachchan family, beyond her presence in a photograph every once in a while or cursory mention. That has more to do with her fractured relationship with the Indian press.
During the course of her cinematic career, Jaya Bachchan played roles that are often aspirational to the Hindi film heroine today- a character that feels real.
As Jaya Bhaduri, she chose films that brought middle class issues and lives to centre stage. Having made her mark with Guddi in 1971, she went on to play characters that shunned the neck pain inducing artificial bun or bouffant, and wiped off the elaborate, obvious make up of heroines. Jaya kept her performances subtle and onscreen emotions, measured. In fact, she drove filmmakers like Gulzar and Basu Chatterjee to write poignant stories epitomising middle class life, and playing the girl next-door, easy to relate to, with success.
With the late Sanjeev Kumar, an actor whose natural performances and versatility remains unmatched till date, Jaya Bachchan has delivered delightful films like Koshish and Anamika being their best films. Koshish, that portrays the love story of a deaf and dumb couple, remains one of Jaya’s best performances ever. Together, they played off each other’s energies, delivering life-like characters and bringing depth and genuineness.
She also agreed to work with her future husband, Amitabh Bachchan in Zanjeer (1973) when no other heroine would work with him, given his flop record. Zanjeer was a huge success, and their love that had blossomed over two years, was formalised in marriage.
Trouble began after she chose to leave films. Jaya got pregnant with Shweta, their daughter, while shooting for Sholay. After the film, she took a sabbatical. It is around this time that reports of Amitabh Bachchan having a passionate affair with Rekha dominated in the media. Jaya Bachchan was always portrayed as the silently suffering wife. The obsession with her husband’s affair nearly erased the good work that they had done together as actors- Abhimaan, Chupke Chupke, and Silsila (a film that actually portrayed a similar love triangle with Rekha and the Bachchans). Having lived in an era when their wives often forgave romantic dalliances by men, Jaya’s grief and hurt became fodder for tabloid speculations for a long time.
Till date, Jaya Bachchan has never given an interview or spoken out about what really transpired in those years of her marriage. Steadfastly, she has brought up her children — Shweta and Abhishek — and been a doting grandmother. Her appearances with her family seem to paint a normal picture. Neither has her husband ever really stated what happened, if anything did. Mrs Bachchan chose to act in a few films like Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa, Kal Ho Na Ho and Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham. More recently though, her film career has remained on the backburner.
Instead, her blunt opinions in the day and age of social media tend to get blown up. She had commented casually that Happy New Year, a film starring her son Abhishek, was rather mediocre but that audiences like such films. This remark landed her in controversy, and allegedly didn’t go down well with Shah Rukh Khan — the film’s producer and leading star. Similarly, her latest remark about Salman Khan’s jail sentence, stating that it should be reconsidered given that he is a humanitarian, will be debated.
When the dust settles, Jaya Bachchan comes across as a person whose perception of the press is idealistic. Her wariness seems stretched today, but could have its roots in past bitterness with the media.
For a movie star that created great cinema, her constant tiffs with the media and a general bad tempered image might become a conclusive legacy — unless there is some softening in the behaviour of India’s best know matriarch after Sonia Gandhi.
Story by Archita Kashyap, First Post